At age five, my only birthday wish was a cowboy hat. Grandpa got it for me. At six, a fishing pole caught my fancy. Grandpa gave me one, complete with a spinning reel, line, and hooks. At seven, I really needed a pair of cowboy boots.
No one obliged this wish. Was it because I was growing out of shoes every 22 days?
Someone – not Grandpa – gifted me with a Barbie Doll. I immediately seated her in my brother’s Tonka Truck and rolled her into the Klickitat River, where she promptly disappeared into the glacial torrent. Because seat belts had not yet been invented and Barbie did not have a flotation device, she never surfaced. (Donnie Dahlberg rescued the Tonka Truck, saving me from brotherly wrath.)
About this time, the neighbor ladies decided to intervene. “Genie is a real tomboy,” Nola Wilson began.
“She was outside playing with no shirt on,” Nessie Kroger put in, “just yesterday!”
“You saw her, too. Huh! Next thing you know, she will be grabbing her brother’s jeans off the line.” Nadine Deardorff was clucking her tongue and shaking her head. “—And . . .”
“She already has her eye on Ricky’s jeans,” Mom interrupted. “Genie thinks boys have more fun, and she has a point. I agree that not wearing a shirt is troublesome, but I am not worried: She told me she would wear a shirt from now on if – and only if – I buy her a pink and a blue brassiere.” The neighbor ladies decided to take their discussion of my unfeminine demeanor to a kitchen where they could predict my future without interruption.
The summer passed in a perfect bliss of swim lessons, Kool-aid, tree climbing, and weekly variety shows. The kids on our block – there were 25 kids on one street, all grammar-school aged – would put on a “circus” at least once per week. We had hula dancers, clowns, jugglers (one ball – the other balls are invisible), animal trainers, mimes, and Red Skelton imitations. My role changed each week, and I became something of a wild card. Need an animal to train? I can do my cougar impression and jump through hoops! Need an acrobat? I can do cartwheels and somersaults! My affinity for pretending was noticed. On my ninth birthday, my grandma gave me a Little Hostess’ Tea Set. The tea set was beautiful! Six tea cups, six saucers, six little plates for jam cakes; and a tiny teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl. All matching and adorable.
I was so thrilled with the REAL tea set that I did not notice the continued campaign to turn me into a girly girl. (Grandpa, bless his heart, got me a variety of artificial baits and lures for my fishing hobby because impaling worms on a barbed hook sent me into very girly shrieks and shudders.) Over the next three or four years, I presided over costume tea parties. The tea set went to college with me, moved across the country when I first married, made nine moves in one year, and survived my most troubling young adult poor decisions. Thirty-five years ago, I brought the tea set to my Dad’s for safe keeping.
It was lost in a move a few years later and I grieved the grief of lost childhood. I grieved anew every time I thought of the tea set, my late grandparents, and moving. A few weeks ago, while helping Dad declutter, I asked if I could look in the attic for the tea set. Permission granted, the man who helps Dad with heavy lifting and ladder work asked, “What does it look like?”
“It is in a pasteboard box and says ‘Child’s tea set’ on the —“
“I know right where it is!” Jimmy headed to the shop and came back with something behind his back. “Are you sure it doesn’t say ‘Little Hostess’ Set’?” Smiling broadly, he presented the box to me.
“That’s it!” and I treated Jimmy to a very not-COVID hug, “My goodness! I have thought of this a thousand times!”
A piece of my childhood has come back to me. One cup was broken, but my heart is full. For the record, I never did get the pink or blue brassieres.
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